Guest essay by Eric Worrall
According to the leader of the Green World Campaign, we have to discard the current extractive economy regime of using chemicals to maximise farm yields, and replace it with a more planet friendly organic approach.
How A Regenerative Revolution Could Reverse Climate Change
Oct 21, 2018, 04:00pm
Earlier this month the world’s leading climate scientists released the most urgent warning on climate change to date.
Among the ambitious ideas to meet this challenge is to enable a regenerative revolution – one that supplants our extractive economic model, and goes beyond “sustainability,” to draw down carbon and reverse course on climate change. Marc Barasch is among the leaders striving to galvanize such a transformation. He is Founder and Executive Director of the Green World Campaign, and an environmental activist who co-convened a first-of-its-kind conference for a regenerative society earlier this year. In our interview he shares what a regenerative revolution might achieve, how technology can help, and how we could advance this economic transition.
Fries: Why should we focus on regeneration now?
Barasch: If we stopped emitting carbon from every tailpipe and smokestack on the planet today, it would not solve global climate change. We’re in a crisis, and it’s only the beginning: we need to reverse course, not just hold the line. We have legacy carbon in the atmosphere that has to be drawn back down. Soil, trees and vegetation naturally capture carbon, if they’re healthy. The Rodale Institute has found that if current farmland practices shifted to regenerative, organic approaches, 100% of annual global CO2 emissions would be sequestered. That’s how powerful soil carbon sequestration is – but we’re not practicing it at anywhere near the scale that’s needed.
Fries: What technologies might enable a regenerative revolution?
Barasch: Blockchain is one opportunity. An excellent example is China’s Ant Forest initiative, where 200 million Alipay customers signed up to perform green good deeds in exchange for tree planting tokens, demonstrating a pent-up demand from the public to respond directly to the current crisis. Each person can accumulate enough positive credits to get a virtual “tree” — and for each of these, Alipay plants a real one. They reached a couple million trees already and have a new goal of half a trillion. This shows the hidden funding potential in small contributions, which can be blockchain enabled, to fund a regenerative revolution.
Fries: How do you see large farms and companies engaging in the regenerative movement?
Barasch: Revising our chemical-dependent, soil-destroying form of agriculture requires a way for farmers to transition. They know that these practices are harming the land that they want to pass on to their children, but they feel stuck in this system. This is a transition that Rodale Institute, Patagonia and a consortium of companies are trying to facilitate through a new regenerative organic standard. Giants like Unilever, Danone and others are also developing regenerative agriculture initiatives and announcing new sourcing commitments.
Sounds all sweet and natural – but a quick peak at Wikipedia gives a glimpse at the level of abundance all those nasty extractive economy agricultural chemicals have given to our world.
… Crop yields in the Middle Ages were extremely low compared to those of the 21st century, although probably not inferior to those in much of the Roman Empire preceding the Middle Ages and the early modern period following the Middle Ages. The most common means of calculating yield was the number of seeds harvested compared to the number of seeds planted. On several manors in Sussex England, for example, the average yield for the years 1350-1399 was 4.34 seeds produced for each seed sown for wheat, 4.01 for barley, and 2.87 for oats. (By contrast, wheat production in the 21st century can total 30 to 40 seeds harvested for each seed sown.) Average yields of grain crops in England from 1250 to 1450 were 7 to 15 bushels per acre. (470 to 1000 kg per ha.) Poor years, however, might see yields drop to less than 4 bushels per acre. Yields in the 21st century, by contrast, can range upwards to 60 bushels per acre. The yields in England were probably typical for Europe in the Middle Ages. …
Read more: Wikipedia
Nature isn’t human friendly. Any food crop is almost immediately infested with pests, many of which are entirely capable of wiping out an entire field. In the absence of chemicals your only hope of bringing in a decent yield is to sit out there picking bugs off the vegetables, or let the pests have their way and hope predator species control enough of the pests so you get something for your effort.
A few seasons planting without chemical fertiliser depletes a field of nitrates. After depletion, without chemical fertiliser it takes years to regenerate a field back to its original potential, hence the old practice of leaving fields fallow for extended periods.
Farmers don’t go to the trouble and expense of applying all those chemicals because they are too lazy to research alternatives, they do it because they have no choice, if they want to return better than medieval farm yields. The grim reality is, without all those “extractive economy” agricultural chemicals and practices to deliver additional nutrients and control pests, most of us would starve.